Borough budgets fail at referendum

NAUGATUCK — Voters overwhelmingly rejected the proposed 2016-17 municipal and school budgets at a referendum Tuesday.

After the polls closed at the Naugatuck Senior Center, 2,912 voters had cast their ballots, surpassing the 15 percent turnout threshold needed for the votes to count under borough laws.

The proposed $58.2 million municipal budget, which was an increase of $4.71 million, or 8.55 percent, was rejected soundly with 2,793 people voting “no: too high,” 23 voted “no: too low,” and 42 voted “yes.”

The $61.6 million Board of Education budget, which is flat compared to last year’s school spending, was also voted down as 2,445 people voted “no: too high,” 43 voted “no: too low,” and 341 voted “yes.”

Although the school budget was rejected, borough officials can’t decrease it because it is a flat budget. New state law allows school districts to decrease their budgets, however Naugatuck is exempt from that law because the school district is one of 30 Alliance Districts in the state.

The total proposed operating budget was $119.98 million, an increase of $4.71 million, or 4 percent, over the 2015-16 budget. The proposed budget would have increased the mill rate 4.17 mills, or about 9 percent, from 45.57 to 49.74.

One mill equals $1 for every $1,000 of assessed value. Under a 49.74 mill rate, a home assessed at $150,000 would pay $7,461 in taxes, an increase of $625.

After the budget was adopted in May, Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess encouraged voters to force the referendum through petitions and reject the municipal budget to buy time to resolve issues with Veolia North America, the company that runs the borough’s wastewater treatment plant.

A large portion of the mill rate increase stemmed from the borough not putting the revenue from Veolia’s rent into the budget. At the time the budget was crafted Veolia had shut down the incinerator at the plant and was not paying rent to the borough. Since then an agreement has been reached between Veolia and the borough. The additional revenue from Veolia is expected to decrease the mill rate increase by about 2 mills.

While some residents turned out to vote due to the urging of Hess, many were concerned about increasing taxes.

Resident Alirio Almeida said his taxes increased $400 last year and were set to increase approximately $600 this year.

“I am against the increase of taxes. Every year the taxes are going up and up. Pretty soon we can’t live here. You pay more taxes here than any other town around,” Almeida said.

The Joint Boards of Mayor and Burgesses and Board of Finance will meet Monday at 6:30 p.m. at the Board of Education offices to present a new budget. That budget will be brought to a public hearing July 21 at 6:30 p.m. at Naugatuck High School.

Borough officials are scheduled to adopt a new budget, which could be forced to another referendum, July 25 at 6:30 p.m. at the Board of Education offices.

“I will be presenting a budget to the joint boards with a mill rate decrease of more than 2 mills. I am happy that we can achieve this decrease in the mill rate but I am surprised that more people did not vote,” Hess said.